MESSAGE FOR JUNE 6, 1999 FROM ROMANS 7:7-12
Our text this morning is once again Romans 7:7-12. Paul says, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." 8But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 9Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
Last week, we said that Paul, having made such a tight connection between the power of sin in chapter six and being under the law in chapter seven, here in this text clarifies the relationship between the power of sin and being under the law. By being “under the law” what we mean, broadly speaking is the attitude or behavior of trying to be pleasing, lovable or acceptable to God by means of what we do or the merit people have apart from Christ. In verse seven, Paul clarifies that, although sin and the law work together in some way, they are by no means the same thing. Then he tells us the purpose of the law in its relationship to sin. And that purpose can be essentially captured by saying, “The law, in its relationship to sin, plays a crucial, indispensable role in a lost person’s salvation.” In verses 7-12 here, Paul gives two ways sin works through the law in a person’s salvation. The first way we discussed last week. This week we will discuss the second way.
The first way sin works through the law in a person’s salvation is: The law reveals a lost person’s sin and therefore their need of salvation. We saw that in this text Paul uses his own personal testimony to explain how the law works in salvation. Because it works the same way in every person, we can apply Paul’s experience to ourselves and others. Paul states his initial experience with the law in verse nine where he says, “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” What we said that curious sentence means was, before the law impacted Paul’s life, he thought he was spiritually alive, but when the law came and revealed his sin, he discovered that instead of being alive, he was in fact, dead. What a wonder the law is--to be able, by the Spirit of God, to cause a person to believe exactly the opposite of what they originally held to be true. This law of God is so powerful. It causes a person who believes one thing with all their heart, to see that they have in fact believed a lie.
Getting back to the purpose of the law, it’s reminiscent of a story I heard several years ago about a group of coal miners who were trapped in a mine after a bad explosion. They were locked in that totally dark hole for days and were near the end of their oxygen supply when suddenly all of the miners began cheering enthusiastically. That is,…all but one. What happened was this: all but the one miner saw from a distance the lights of an approaching rescue crew. In the midst of the celebration, the one miner began screaming at the others, asking them why they were so excited. The mine grew very quiet because the others realized this man had lost his sight in the explosion and had been blind for three days but he didn’t know it because he had been in total darkness. Now that the light had appeared it manifested--it (pardon the expression) brought to light his blindness. While he was in pitch dark, there was no way for him to know he was blind, but the entrance of the light revealed his blindness. That’s what the law does, it shows the sinner what has always been true, but what they have been unaware of; that is, that they are in truth, blind to their sin and spiritually dead.
Paul goes on to share precisely which one of the laws of God actually used to reveal to him the truth that, instead of being spiritually alive, he was dead. He says in verse eight, “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” We saw that the law against covetousness reveals what a person really wants or desires. This law against coveting exposes the true passions of people who, like moral, religious Saul of Tarsus thought he was right with God when in fact he was dead. This law does this by revealing that, although they may be quite religious, are active in church and be a very “Minnesota Nice” person, when you get down to their heart, what they most deeply want or desire is not God and his kingdom. At heart, even though they may be very nice and quite conservative theologically, their basic, driving force in life is not a passion for God, but a passion for things or other people.
This law against covetousness reveals their desires and exposes them as people whose passions have not been changed by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. The law burns up people’s false hopes and false assurance and reveals the truth. It bursts the bubbles people have about their spiritual status with God. The first way sin and the law work together in a person’s salvation is the law reveals sin.
The second way the law is used in conjunction with the power of sin in a person’s salvation is: by enflaming and provoking a person’s sinful desires, the law relentlessly drives lost people to see they are spiritually dead apart from Christ. We see this purpose of the law in verse eight where Paul says, “…Sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.” This is a remarkable statement because it says that the holy law of God, actually provokes or incites people to sin. We have mentioned this before. The law is to sin what gasoline is to a fire. We might say that the law is to sin what oxygen is to fire. Every person has the hot embers of sin within their heart. When the law of God encounters those embers and blows the breath of God over them, they blaze into a roaring fire of sin against God. The rebellion in the sinner’s heart is fanned into a blazing fire by a holy standard which he can’t keep from violating.
Paul’s treatment of the role of the law in a sinner’s heart is two-pronged. The law not only reveals the sin, it actually provokes, entices and ignites sin into a roaring inferno of outward iniquity. Now, we can easily understand the need every sinner has to have his sin revealed. If they think they are right with God when in fact they are not, that must be pointed out and it is necessary for the law to reveal sin to the sinner. The question is, after the law reveals a person’s sin, why does it also have to show the sinner he not only has sin, but he is completely dominated with it? Why does the law have to both reveal AND provoke (in Paul’s words) “every kind of sin?” The law not only shows a person his sin, it buries the sinner under the sense of his overwhelming wickedness. Why is that necessary?
The answer is found in many places but let’s look at the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 16:2 says, “All a man's ways seem innocent to him…,” Proverbs 30:12 says “[There are] those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth;” And Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Filthy, hell bound people think they are “innocent,” “pure” and “right.” What those verses so powerfully imply is that people have an enormous capacity for self deception with respect to their own, presumed innate goodness apart from Christ. Not only do they have an enormous capacity for self-deception, they cling to the lie that they are right with God with intense tenacity. They are firmly committed to the lie that God must be pleased with them just as they are.
Now, if a person is that entrenched in the stronghold of this lie that they are right with God, the law must not only notify them they have sin, it must also violently evict them from their stronghold of deception. The law has to blow them out of that lie-darkened place! If the law only gently notified people of their sin, they would not sense their dramatic need for a Christ-sized Savior. No, they would see they are basically very good people with a need for some minor, interior remodeling. The law, as it actually intensifies a person’s desire to sin shows them the truth about themselves. The truth is that their hearts are not only smudged with occasional sin, their hearts are as black as coal with it. They are not suffering from case of spiritual heart burn, in need of some heavenly antacid. They are, in fact monsters of iniquity who are in desperate need of having their old, dead hearts torn out and, by the grace of God, replaced with a completely new, living heart. They need to see that they are so saturated with sin, that they would in truth, feel much more at home in hell, eternally shaking their fist at God than in heaven, where they THINK they belong. That is the hard truth about all people apart from Christ, irrespective of how nice or religious they may be and the law is crucial in helping people see that truth.
In verse 11, Paul says, “For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.” As a side note, notice how Paul, (as we have noted before) personifies sin. He speaks of the power of sin as if it were a person who seeks to deceive and kill people. As we’ve said before, this is the way all healthy Christians view sin. Sin is a mercilessly destructive spiritual power with a focussed and highly intentional agenda. The power of sin isn’t just out there aimlessly meandering about, occasionally tripping up some poor, unlucky soul. NO! The power of sin persistently, tirelessly stalks, pounces on and kills people. If we saw sin this way, we would be far less likely to dabble with it so cavalierly. We would never tease or play around with a hungry crocodile, yet beside the lethal power of sin, the fiercest monster on earth looks like a wood tick. Yet, so many of us trifle with sin. Only the protective grace of God keeps people who dance with sin from being consumed by sin. We must be aware that this protective grace in the context of willful playing with sin is not perpetually guaranteed. God can remove it any time He sees fit.
How do we apply this truth about the dual role of the law in both revealing and enticing the sin of lost people? Let’s think about two applications. First, reviewing from last week, realize the necessity of the law to bring nice, religious people to Christ. The church in the West has become very creative in its evangelistic methods and messages in the past 30 years or so. There is nothing wrong with creativity—it can point to God. But there is something desperately wrong with an evangelistic message without an appropriate element of the law of God. The reason, as we said last week is clear. Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins. In order for that death to be appropriated for that purpose, the sinner must KNOW they have a horrific problem called sin. And God’s chosen instrument for revealing a person’s sin is the law in one form or another. No law, no sin, no sin, no need for a change in the status quo and the status quo for many people we see every day is the total darkness of a life lived in self deception.
This truth not only needs to be included in our evangelistic message (as we said last week), it also needs to impact our prayers for lost people. “God, please save Aunt Betsy” is fine if that’s all you know to pray. But if we didn’t know before, now we know to pray along this line, “Oh God, use your holy law to reveal Betsy’s sin to her. By your Holy Spirit working through the law, cause her to see that her niceness, her external religion does not even approach your holy standard. And God, in your mercy, relentlessly, doggedly apply your law to her heart until all she can see about herself is her sin against you. Use your law to tear the scales from her eyes that keep her from seeing the truth about the state of her soul and drive her to the cross. God, cause her to see that her heart is so dark that she, as nice as she is, would be more at home in hell than heaven.” That’s a biblically informed, truth-soaked prayer and God loves to answer it because He loves to vindicate his truth. He loves to show His church that his law/gospel plan, empowered by the Spirit is effective in bringing dead sinners to life. That brings honor to Him and we can be confident that He answers this kind of prayer.
The second point of application is live out the genuine, Spirit-filled Christian life so as to graphically preach the righteousness of God to the lost sinners around you. Reciting the tenth commandment to a covetous person is only one way we can preach the law to a sinner. You show me a consistently Spirit empowered person who, by the Holy Spirit, “fulfills the law of God” as Paul says in Romans 8:4, and I will show you a person who God uses to preach the law to sinners without opening his/her mouth. A believer who is filled with the Spirit shows that the law of God is written on their hearts by their passions and their life. That law on their hearts is lived out and that person becomes a “living law” for people to read. A believer whose life is separated to God will reveal the fraud of simply a nice, religious life. A believer who passionately pursues God more than television or sports or material goods or reputation will tear away the veneer of self deception in the life of a superficial, dead, church-going, nice person.
This is what God used to bring me to Christ. I was a nice, religious church-going person who began to see all his nice, church-going friends become real Christians. They passionately pursued Christ—they devoured his word, they met for prayer, they loved each other deeply and couldn’t stop talking about the Lord. My first response was to wonder why on earth they had become religious fanatics. But over time, the Holy Spirit used their radiant lives to show me the darkness of my own heart and by His grace I began to want whatever it was they had. Praise God he saw fit to send into my life real, hungry, on fire, NORMAL Christian people whose lives eloquently and profoundly preached the law of God to me, exposing me and my dead religion as a sham.
Is your life so distinct from the average, nice, religious person’s life so as to reveal the truth to a “Minnesota nice” person? Is your passion for God hot enough to reveal the deadness of another person whose religion is only external? One of the most tragic truths about the church today in the area of evangelism is this: the church looks so much like the world in its orthodox, but passionless, lukewarm attitudes and practices, that the nice people of the world are never forced to see that, by comparison, their religion is a fraud, a pale substitute for the real thing. They so seldom see the real thing lived out and its our fault because we aren’t living out the law in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit!
Today, the cry of much of the church as it relates to evangelism “BE RELEVANT.”—“The way we can win this generation is by connecting to it, showing them that Christ is relevant to their lives.” What that mantra often means is this “make the Christian life accessible to these people-—how them that you’re a lot like they are only you have Jesus Christ in your life.” Paul says (quoting Isaiah), “Therefore come out from them and be separate.” The way to win the lost is to show them the righteousness of God in Christ through sold out lives. The church doesn’t need to try to be relevant. There is nothing more relevant to lost people than a supernaturally transformed life filled with “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” That will always be relevant for those whom God has prepared. The church needs to be different, distinct from the world and as we walk in the light of holiness, we will expose the darkness of lost people’s hearts. Oh God, give us the grace to preach the truth of your righteousness with our mouths and with our lives so the nice people of this world will see the truth and be set free from their lethal self deception.
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